Image is courtesy of European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).
Who Are Refugees?
Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. According to international law, a refugee is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. As of 2017, there are 29.7 million refugees around the world. Out of the 29.7 million refugees, 84% are hosted by developing countries and are in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Physical Conditions
Moria Camp is located on the Greek island of Lesbos. It is Europe’s largest camp and is known to be the worst refugee camp by NGOs and MSF (Medicin Sans Frontieres) staff. The capacity of the camp is about 2500, but in 2020 about 19 000 refugees were living in the camps. New refugees from Turkey arrive every day with hopes of new life. They have escaped Syrian wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones in the world. These camps are tents and temporary buildings in open land away from common civilization. Moria camp has no space for newer refugees, and thus the campsites are starting to pour into the countryside of the Island. Individuals from different political backgrounds (Arab-Afghan) live in these camps, and there is always high tension and fights that erupt at any time. Men get stabbed, are bloody and many times severely hurt. Police use tear gas to calm these fights, but without vain, refugees panic and flee their camps to live outside the campsites in small tents.
Food and Hygiene
Mice, snakes, insects and other harmful animals are quite common in the camps. The food is often spoiled and not nutritious enough. The Greek government provides one 1L bottle of water for each day to families. Refugees wait for 3-4 hours for each of their meals each day. In terms of hygiene, 70-75 individuals share single washrooms while waiting in queues for hours. They are never cleaned and are even bigger factors in causing diseases. Statistics show that even though most refugees are under the age of 50, they are developing complex medical conditions at a young age due to a lack of nutrition and hygiene. Pregnant women are giving birth without any medical care, not knowing how their baby is growing inside the womb or if they are healthy.
The Mental Conditions
In Moria, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports that children as young as 10 commit suicide. Psychological problems are omnipresent, and rates of attempted suicide are high. Studies stress the mediating role of daily stressors such as unsafe living conditions, challenges in meeting basic survival needs, the inability to produce income, and isolation from family and traditional social supports on the effect of past war-related trauma on mental health in refugees. Women are raped often and left to deal with the trauma, anger and danger of getting killed. There is no human rights protection as these rights are often violated. MSF has very limited mental health support, which can take months and years to get processed. They had hoped for better quality lives but are met with conditions that are worse. Children are not able to cope with the death of their families, are abandoned and face psychological effects from the wars as well as the refugee camps. Many refugees suffer from depression due to their lost families, previous trauma and the loss of hope for their future to escape Moria and seek asylum.
These refugees are the same as us—they are lawyers, doctors, journalists, educators who had to escape their countries due to political tensions. They are actively trying to reach asylum and safety in other countries, yet are being treated in horrible conditions in refugee camps as the government and its policies fail to protect the refugees. NGOs and internal awareness are necessary to change their conditions and allow them to get jobs, be hopeful, get an education, raise children and live a life everyone deserves.
Article author: Gurdial Gill
Article editors: Sherilyn Wen, Victoria Huang